Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man:…
Here James traces the whole evil done by man, first, back to its proper source, and then forward to its final issue. He says, in this case the temptation is not from God; the inducement to sin, and the influence by which it is yielded to, are not from Him but from ourselves.
I. THE SOURCE OF SUCH TEMPTATION.
1. It does not originate with God. It is here clearly implied, on the one hand, that some are ready to say this, either with their lips or in their hearts. It has been supposed that the reference is to the fatalism which characterised many of the Jews; but for that there seems to be no good warrant. The error is common one, and has ever been found springing up, under this or that form, in the soil of our depraved nature. It appeared at a very early period, and is indeed coeval with the fall itself (Genesis 3:13). In every age men have sought to cast the burden off themselves, and if possible to implicate the great Author of their being in the impurities of their character and conduct. They have done it in various ways. Some have identified sin with God, with His very nature. They have espoused the Pantheistic philosophy, which makes good and evil alike emanate from Him, yea, alike constitute Him, be equally manifestations and features of Him, parts of the universal, all-embracing Deity. Not a few who stop short of that monstrous but fascinating system, yet bring matters to the same issue, so far as the responsibility of their vices and crimes is concerned. They attribute them to Divine suggestion. It has not been uncommon to trace the foulest deeds to ideas and impulses of heavenly origin. Less directly, but not less really, is the same thing done by those who find a shelter in their corrupt dispositions and desires, in those propensities and passions which strongly incite to and issue in evil courses. Genius has boldly, defiantly urged this plea in defence of irregular habits, of gross excesses, and rolled back on the Author of our being the guilt of the darkest misdeeds. Persons of this stamp have appealed to Him, as knowing that He has framed them with passions wild and strong, and have traced their wildest wandering to light from heaven (Burns). And what is perhaps worse, their blind and foolish admirers have endorsed the impious plea, and deemed it sufficient excuse for the foulest immorality and profanity to talk of the poet's galloping blood and quick nerves, of "the gunpowder in his composition," separating him from tame, cold precisions, and raising him far above the common rules of judgment and action. These parties forget that God made man upright, after His own image, without an evil tendency, without one lust, vanity, or imperfection in his constitution. Everything of the sort is the fruit of the fall, of the change wrought in us by apostasy, of our voluntary, wilful, presumptuous rebellion against the authority of heaven. All that is corrupt is of ourselves. The origin of it is human and Satanic; it is not, in whole or part, Divine. Others say, in effect, that they are tempted of God, because of the position they occupy, the circumstances in which they are placed, and the objects by which they are surrounded. High or low, rich or poor, young or old, learned or ignorant, we have each that in our condition which not only tries, but tempts; and for that is not the great Disposer of affairs, He who has fixed our position and appointed our lot, is not He responsible? He fills and directs that stream which is flowing all around, carrying us down by its constant, swollen, resistless current. How can we bear up against it, and if we are swept away by it, is it at all wonderful? God does it, and He could have ordered things far otherwise, He could have shielded us from all such malign influences. Those who entertain the thought overlook the fact that we have often very much to do with these circumstances ourselves. How common a thing is it to choose our own way, regardless of the will of God, and presumptuously to place ourselves in that situation, and among those objects, on which we afterwards cast the blame of the sins we there commit, of the errors and impurities into which we are there seduced! Further, these persons fail to realise the truth, that circumstances in themselves have comparatively little power over us, that they derive their mastery, not from what is in them, but what is in us — from the dispositions and desires on which they operate. And they forget that these very circumstances which are complained of are meant to furnish a wholesome discipline, to supply that moral and spiritual training which we need, and that in the exercise of reason and conscience — above all, by grace sought and obtained, we are to control, to govern them, to rise superior to them, and, instead of allowing them to be masters, make them our servants. Let no man then say that, in these respects or any others, he is tempted of God; let him guard against the most distant approach to such foul blasphemy. So far from anything of the kind, God sets before us the most powerful inducements to reject evil under every form, to avoid it as we should a serpent in our path. How authoritative the commands, how awful the sanctions of His law! while the operations of His providence, and indeed the very constitution of our being, which is His workmanship, supply us with the most convincing evidence that He hates sin and punishes its commission. James gives a reason for this, he founds it on the Divine nature itself. "For God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man." "He cannot be tempted with evil." He is infinitely far removed from it, raised above it, under all its forms. He is so because of the absolute perfection of His being and blessedness. He has no want to be supplied, no desire to be gratified. He can gain nothing, can receive nothing. His happiness is complete, absolute, admitting neither of diminution nor enlargement. What inducement, then, can evil present to Him, what bribe can it offer to such a being? "Neither tempteth He any man." The two statements are closely connected. The one follows from, and is based on, the other. He who cannot be tempted cannot tempt. He whose holiness shuts out all solicitation to evil will not, cannot present such solicitation. His spotless, glorious character is opposed equally to either supposition.
2. It originates with man himself. It springs from elements which have their seat in his own bosom. It rises from, it centres in, "lust." This term is not limited here, as it often is in common use among us, to sensual passion, to licentiousness. It is far more general and comprehensive. It denotes strong desire of any kind; and here, as often elsewhere, it means irregular, sinful desire — desire either of what is not lawful, or of what is lawful in an inordinate degree. It may be evil in its very nature, irrespective of extent, or it may be so only by reason of perversion and excess. There is much of this in every bosom. It is the corrupt principle in its various tendencies and motions — its striving, craving for certain objects and indulgences. It is the body of sin in its manifold appetites and members. Here is the primary, prolific source of transgression. The apostle says, "his own lust," and this is a significant and emphatic circumstance. Each person has a particular lust, a master-passion, an evil tendency, which has the chief influence in determining his conduct and moulding his character. All of us have sins that do more easily beset us, by reason of the special principles and propensities which bold sway in our bosom. One is governed by the love of pleasure, another by the love of power. Thin man is ambitious, that is covetous. Here it is the filthiness of the flesh, there it is the filthiness of the spirit, which is dominant. But what is brought out by "his own," is that the lust by which we are tempted is a thing strictly belonging to ourselves. It excludes the idea of foreign action or influence; it confronts and condemns the imagination that God is at all implicated in the matter. Our own lust is more to be dreaded than all Satan's assaults, though these are ever to be watched and feared. But the temptation in question, that which issues in sin, operates, takes effect, has its success in the manner here described. "When he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed." We take the first step in the direction of real and overt acts of disobedience when we allow ourselves to be drawn away and enticed by it; for it acts in both cases, brings about the latter step as well as the former, in this downward process. We break loose from the restraints of various kinds which have helped to hold us back from evil, and gradually yield to the enticements presented, to the fascinations of vanity or vice, of folly or wickedness. The one step precedes and prepares for the other.
Parallel VersesKJV: Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: